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Meet the Spaniard behind the ‘Black Panther’ score

Andalusian Anele Onyekwere talks to EL PAÍS about working on the team that produces the music for all Marvel Studio movies

Anele Onyekwere in one of Marvel’s recording studios.
Anele Onyekwere in one of Marvel’s recording studios.

If Wakanda exists, it’s near Baza, a small farming town in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. This is the birthplace of 41-year-old Anele Onyekwere, the Spaniard who made the soundtrack for Black Panther.

Marvel movies are the ‘Indiana Jones’ of our era

Anele Onyekwere, music producer

His name does not appear in any of the seven Oscar nominations the Marvel blockbuster has received. “Musical montage missed the Hollywood awards train years ago,” says Onyekwere, who despite not receiving a nomination, recognizes the efforts of his team.

His work can be heard throughout the whole movie, which is the first Marvel Studios feature film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. “At Marvel, coherency rules, and one assumes more responsibilities than in other studios. In our department, we are just a few musical producers who work from the beginning to the end of the process, even when the composer has already finished their work,” says Onyekwere, who is the only Spaniard on the small production team.

The team is involved with all Marvel productions. In the past three years, Onyekwere has worked on Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, the last two installments of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgames and, of course, Black Panther.

Onyekwere has also worked with Spanish composers such as Federico Jusid, Alberto Iglesias and Lucio Godoy

Before arriving in Hollywood, the graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music worked in Madrid with Spanish composers such as Federico Jusid, Alberto Iglesias and Lucio Godoy. “They wrote the notes and I produced the complete music,” he says.

Onyekwere’s Hollywood dreams were born in his hometown in his family’s video rental store. There he watched movies like Indiana Jones and Star Wars, whose soundtracks, by composers like John Williams and Ennio Morricone, captured and inspired him. “Marvel movies are the Indiana Jones of our era,” he says.

Onyekwere, who has an Andalusian mother and a Nigerian father, felt more connected to Black Panther than any other movie he’s worked on because of its strong African elements. Onyekwere says he spent many sleepless nights working with the movie’s director, Ryan Coogler, on coordinating an orchestra in London from Disney’s studios in Burbank, California. The music from Wakanda, the home of the superhero Black Panther, is punctuated by flutes, percussion similar to djembes called talking drums, and features the voice of Senegalese singer Baaba Maal. “Coherency is what separates Marvel movies from others. Black Panther didn’t come from nowhere,” explains Onyekwere. “Ryan spent years investigating various African cultures, their music, language and relationship with the African-American culture.”

Onyekwere connected to the film because of its strong African elements

According to Onyekwere, the other Marvel superheroes are executive producers Kevin Feige and Argentine Victoria Alonso, who are in charge of Marvel Studios. “Contact is constant. Kevin is a visionary. [...] He is someone who breathes cinema and has an incredible musical knowledge. And with Victoria, there is the Hispanic bond. We talk a lot and we’ve become like family.”

It’s a family that refuses to share plot secrets, which Onyekwere jokingly says could cost him his marriage with graphic designer Ascen García. “The biggest stress is at home. Although this Christmas in Spain a friend got very angry with me because of how Avengers: Infinity War ended,” he says with a laugh. Although he won’t be able to attend the Oscars because another long night of recording between Burbank and London awaits him, he sees the nominations as a victory. “My next goal is the Academy. It must be revolutionized from within, and right now is a good time because people from all backgrounds and walks of life are entering, and it’s time for change.”

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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